Why does Irving use humor in "The Devil and Tom Walker"?

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Satire is a particular type of humor, and literary critics agree that in "The Devil and Tom Walker," Washington Irving was satirizing America's growing greed and materialism when the story was written in 1824.

Irving was a well-known social satirist, and with this story he observes how the...

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Satire is a particular type of humor, and literary critics agree that in "The Devil and Tom Walker," Washington Irving was satirizing America's growing greed and materialism when the story was written in 1824.

Irving was a well-known social satirist, and with this story he observes how the American colonies, even the ones that were supposed to be religious communities like the Puritans, were set up to exploit the abundant natural resources in America. And like Tom Walker, people also exploited each other when there was money to be made.

Irving's satirical humor in this story enables him to make a social critique without it turning into an editorial or a rant. Through the use of humorous exaggeration, Irving is able to make Tom Walker and his wife ridiculously greedy—to the point that they would squabble over the eggs that their chickens laid.

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Like most of Irving's stories, "The Devil and Tom Walker" is a satire; so because the author is mocking Puritan beliefs and superstitions, hypocritical church members, greedy husbands and wives, etc., humor is a necessity to assure that the audience knows that the piece is satirical. Irving's exaggeration of the level of greed and dislike in the Walker marriage is humorous, but it also illuminates problems that Irving saw in marriages and the consequences of greed.

While it is amusing that Walker is so concerned about the devil coming for his soul after he becomes a usurper that he carries around a Bible and wants his horse buried upside down, Irving uses his humor in this section of the story to point out the hypocrisies in people who are openly religious but inwardly immoral.

In short, the story's humor advances Irving's satirical tone and themes.

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